I recently read a Chinese proverb that stated “I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand.” And though there may be some push back from you as the reader regarding how you best learn, I do know this: true learning occurs when I go beyond seeing and hearing and can get involved in the doing.
A Toolbelt of Effectiveness
I think we as teachers should be looking to pad our tool belt with those techniques that generate the type of atmosphere and class climate that generates authentic and meaningful learning and gets more doing out of them and less speaking from us.
Periodically, I will present a teaching tool via my posts that has been well-received in my classrooms over the years. My goal is to pique your interest with tools that are free, easy to use, and have maximum impact, with the hope that you can add a new tool to your teaching tool belt.
The Buzz Group
The first of these “teaching gadgets” is called a Buzz Group. There are many variations of this in-class exercise and so you have the freedom to adapt it to your own setting. The important take-away is that you use it. I came across this idea in a helpful resource called Collaborative Learning Techniques, by Barkley, Cross, and Major.
A Buzz Group is a quick discussion tool whereby you are teaching a concept, pause, momentarily dive deeper through some group discussion, and then resume your lesson. This technique takes 10 minutes or less from start to finish but has a lot of bang for the buck.
In your lesson, find a point that would either lend itself to controversy, multiple opinions, or some healthy tension. Create a question that leads to open-ended answers as opposed to a yes/no type answer. Either announce the question verbally or use a PowerPoint slide.
Next, divide the class into groups. These can be preset groups that are easy to form when needed or can be formed on-the-spot in a variety of ways. I arrange my class so that the same groups can be formed quickly and time is not wasted. And keep the groups between 3-5 students.
Next, assign roles so that there is ownership with the activity. I use playing cards. Each person in the group gets a different card suit. I randomly designate each suit to be a different role in the group: the spokesperson for later discussion, the facilitator who ensures everyone participates, and the one who takes notes. Others in the group get to be active participators with their team.
Announce to the class that they have 2-3 minutes to discuss the question you have created. I have found that 2-3 minutes usually provides adequate time for a brief conversation. Walk around the room, listen in, and contribute feedback.
At the end of the time, start asking for feedback from those designated as the spokesperson for the group. Allow this to begin a brief discussion among you and your students. Ask questions. Push back. Extend the conversation. Dig Deeper.
At the end, it is important that you as the teacher guide the conversation to where you believe it needs to conclude. Allow the students to bounce around in their ideas, but a master teacher is going to lead his or her students to a conclusion or direction. And sometimes the teacher may create healthy tension by desiring the students to give additional thought for the next class period and not come to a conclusion by the end of the class. A little unresolved dissonance for a while is not always a bad thing.
One Tool – Many Benefits
And that is all there is to it. Many great skill sets are developed through this technique – listening, speaking, analyzing, collaborating, concluding. And remember, our value as educators does not lie in the vast amount of knowledge that we know, although that is helpful. Our value as educators lies in how we help engage learners and create valid meaning that changes lives.
Community Input: If you have used this technique in your classroom, what additional ways have you employed to generate better discussion?